Goals were hard to come by and it was tough and physical — reminiscent of a playoff game. The Avalanche and St. Louis Blues concluded a consecutive-night, regular-season set at Ball Arena Saturday, but it felt like it meant more than that.
For the struggling Blues, who entered on a five-game losing skid, it probably did. But the Avs gave no mercy to the 2019 Stanley Cup champions and used a Cale Makar goal in the final minute of regulation to defeat St. Louis 2-1.
“It definitely felt like a playoff game and I think we love that atmosphere,” said Makar, the superstar defenseman who logged 26:44 and was plus-2. “In between periods we were talking about how beneficial this is for us.”
Makar’s fourth shot of the game came from the high slot and sneaked past goalie Ville Husso at 19:19 of the third period to help the Avs keep pace with Tampa Bay and Florida with an NHL-high 54 points. West Division-leading Colorado (25-8-4) is now four points ahead of Vegas (24-10-2), which lost 2-1 to Minnesota on Saturday.
The Avs extended their regulation unbeaten streak to 14 games (12-0-2) — the longest points streak in the NHL this season and third-longest in club history. The 2000-01 Stanley Cup-winning Avalanche had points in 16 straight games and the 2002-03 Avs collected a point in 14 consecutive contests.
“We’re in a fight and a race to try and get home ice and put ourselves in the best possible position we can for the playoffs and our guys are taking that to heart,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “They’re coming out every night with the right mindset and attitude and desire to win the hockey game. I expect that to continue here down the stretch.”
The Avs also beat the Blues (16-15-6) in a tight, one-goal game on Friday night (3-2)
“We need these tight games to prepare for us for hopefully where we’re going to go in the playoffs,” Makar said.
Goalie Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves for his 23rd victory, tying Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay for the league lead. The Avs were perfect on the penalty kill against St. Louis, which was 0-of-3 on the man-advantage. On the season, Colorado ranks second in the NHL in penalty killing at 87.1%.
“We know who’s on the ice. We watch a lot of film. If we give something up, we know where it’s coming from,” Grubauer said of the penalty kill. “Guys are sacrificing themselves, they’re blocking shots, getting in the shot lane. Everybody is talking, everybody is working as a unit. Those are all successful things — good things that make us successful.”
The Avalanche scored first for the 27th time in 37 games, and it came off the stick of star center Nathan MacKinnon, who produced his third goal in four periods against the Blues when he struck 11:27 into the game.
His 13th goal of the season came off the rush, stemming from an exit-zone pass from defenseman Devon Toews to winger Gabe Landeskog, who slid it to MacKinnon near the Blues’ blue line. MacKinnon raced down the right wing and blistered a shot high over the shoulder of Husso.
“We want (Toews) to look to the middle of the ice a little bit. He did right away and saw Landy (and) whenever you can feed the puck out to Nate with that kind of speed coming through the neutral zone good things are going to happen,” Bednar said.
St. Louis answered at 18:04 — 11 seconds after Landeskog was released from the penalty box for roughing. Former Avs center Ryan O’Reilly tied it 1-1 by swatting the puck past Grubauer amid a heavy scrum in the crease.
Gruabuer and Husso were fantastic in keeping it 1-1 through the second period. Husso stopped breakaways by Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri.
Colorado will travel to Minnesota on Sunday and begin a two-game set against the Wild on Monday in St. Paul, Minn. The Avs play 10 of their next 13 games outside Denver; they have an 8-4-2 road record.
Footnotes. Colorado fourth line winger Logan O’Connor missed his second game with a lower-body injury, but winger Valeri Nichushkin returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with an ower-body injury. … Fourth-line forward Liam O’Brien, playing in his second career game with the Avs, had a spirited fight with Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in the second period. O’Brien, who appeared to pick the fight during an ensuing faceoff, adds toughness to the lineup. Bortuzzo tried to fight Nichushkin in the first period. … The Avalanche on Saturday signed forward Sampo Ranta of the University of Minnesota to his three-year, entry-level contract. Ranta, 20, who played for Finland at the 2020 World Juniors, was the Avs’ third-round pick (78th overall) in 2018. The Golden Gophers fell 4-0 to Minnesota State in last week’s regional title game in Loveland to end Ranta’s junior season. Ranta, who will begin is pro career with the Colorado Eagles in Loveland, was second in NCAA goal-scoring this season with 19. He was named to the All-Big Ten first team and finished with 67 points (37 goals) and a plus-27 rating in 102 career NCAA games.
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